By Liz Sheehan |
LONG BRANCH – A city man is calling for the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus from Slocum Park, adjacent to the city’s library.
Gualterio Alomar, a utility worker who is also a documentary filmmaker and leader of a group called the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins (OCHO), cited Columbus’s brutal treatment of the natives in Puerto Rico and neighboring islands – as described by the 16th century historian and Dominican friar, Bartolome De Las Casas – as the reason for the removal request.
He said Columbus’ use of the natives as slaves led to the practice spreading to other countries.
“As far as I am concerned he gave birth to the slave trade,” Alomar said.
According to Alomar, who moved to Long Branch six years ago, the statue is in a neighborhood that is predominantly Hispanic and black, two groups Columbus exploited.
Questions about taking down statues of Columbus have been raised in other locations, including New York City, which is now conducting a review of statues in the city, according to an NBC news report in August.
Alomar said he had spoken to Bill Dangler, the president of the Long Branch NAACP,
After the request, Alomar said he saw a video of Dangler telling the City Council the NAACP was not in favor of the action, but did not receive a call from Dangler.
After approaching other groups for support but not receiving it, Alomar said Wednesday he will go alone to the City Council to make his group’s request for the statue’s removal.
“I’m going to take it on myself,” he said.
Dangler said Tuesday the NAACP members decided not to back the request to remove the statue. He informed the Council of his organization’s decision because he had been told there were rumors going around the city’s Amerigo Vespucci Society – an Italian- American group formed in 1893 – that the NAACP would ask for the statue’s removal.
“It is part of American history,” Dangler said about Columbus.
“Good or bad, we should teach American history,” he said, and, “Teach the history of Columbus, the good and the bad.”
An inscription on the base of the statue said it had been donated by “Americans of Italian extraction” in 1961.
Alomor said the three-year old group OCHO provides education and mental health services to Hispanic communities free of charge through programs and seminars, counseling programs, and volunteer activities, all while preserving Hispanic culture and traditions. He said there was a need for mental health counseling to be done with an awareness of cultural differences.
Alomor, whose documentary film, “Colonization is Extinction,” will be shown at the New York Latino Film Festival this month, said he had presented a workshop at the Long Branch library about OCHO’s concerns and history.
His film is described on OCHO’s website as shining a light on the current state of Puerto Rico, its economic crisis and how colonialism has crippled the island.
This weekend, the Long Branch Public Library will host Latino Fest from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday at its facility, 328 Broadway. On Sunday, the Columbus Day Parade will be held on at 1 p.m. The parade starts at Long Branch Middle School and travels Bath Avenue to Broadway and down Morris Avenue.
This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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